Fastest Finger First
Quiz is a surprisingly good drama and after the first episode, is gearing itself up to be one of the must-watch British shows of the year. When it comes to ITV standards you either get a hidden gem or something that’s better left on a burning furnace, with plenty of petrol to hand to keep those flames crisp. Staged across 3 days as a singular TV event (reminisce of the way Millionaire was when it first launched), Quiz is an intriguing prospect and one that relies on a true story to keep the story on an even keel.
Back in 2003, Charles Ingram shocked the world when he coughed and sputtered his way into millionaire history by winning the incredibly popular Who Wants To Be A Millionaire quiz show. One of those rare moments that many may have remembered watching, Millionaire was a mainstay in British households for many years and had families sat in deathly silence watching the drama unfold every episode.
Episode 1 of Quiz begins within the height of anarchy surrounding the historic win, with Charles Ingram taken into court and the trial beginning. A trial that could lead to criminal sentencing. From here we cut back in time to the ITV Network Offices in October 1997. A new Director of programs, David, enters the fold as Claudia introduces herself to him. She pitches a new “event” idea which includes winning £1 million.
The board meeting begins and in the era of gimmicks and wacky game shows, David Briggs and Paul Smith pitch the idea of combining a pub quiz with cash prizes. With the foundation of the show coming together, Paul pitches it to the ITV Director and after a mock run through the game, he senses there’s something there for them to use. However, the Director warns that the cash prize could topple the phone revenue, putting them at a loss and putting ITV in a very sticky position.
Confident his idea will work, Paul agrees to pony up 50% of the losses if need be, which the Director agrees to but tells him they need a pilot episode. As they walk away from the meeting, David tries to reassure Paul that everything will work out okay.
After convincing Chris Tarrant to sign on as a presenter, David and Paul watch the pilot and believe the concept won’t catch on. Only, the Director clearly sees potential and decides to sign on with a new title and let the show run during peak-times for a week.
Realizing they have something very special on their hands, Paul makes drastic changes and alas, the familiar format of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” is born.
Up at Wiltshire, we see Charles and Diana Ingram, living happily together. Charles is an Army Major and clearly pretty intelligent, although vehemently declaring that he wants to be anonymous in life. Back home, he, Diana and Diana’s enthused brother Adrian watch the first broadcast unfold, with the latter captivated and immediately ringing afterward to try to book a place on the show.
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is a huge success and even garners international acclaim from the Americans at ABC who bow before him. Watching this all unfold, Adrian’s failed attempt to get on the hot seat causes him to phone Paddy Spooner, a man who’s acting as a conspirator against the show. As he talks to him about the phone lines and the impossible questions they give, Paddy mentions how groups of people are talking together and they’ve called themselves “The Syndicate”.
After learning all the inner secrets of the group, Adrian decides to go it alone instead, testing his “fastest finger first” with a make-shift device at home and a slew of different quiz answers. Managing to get on the show four times (and raising eyebrows for Paul and David backstage) he finally manages to reach the hot-seat.
Unfortunately he leaves with 32,000 after his Father feeds him the wrong answer on his Phone A Friend lifeline. With his business drowning in debts, Adrian realizes the money is not enough to cover his expenses. Instead, he hands the reigns of his operation over to Diana after showing her and Charles his secret garage full of intricate details about the show.
Back at his country estate, Tecwen Whittock introduces himself after his distinct cough and offers to buy a prototype of the faster finger first button from him. After taking his number, we then cut forward to see Diana in the hot seat, with brother Adrian up in the stands.
Unfortunately she goes home with 32,000 as well and offers Adrian £14k of it. Behind the scenes however, Paul and David call a meeting with ITV and discuss the legality surrounding the same people going on the show and how similar demographics appear to be cozying up together. Paul warns that something big is coming and tells them all to be ready for it, as we cut across and see Adrian running away from his problems after being up to his eyeballs in debt.
While he leaves, Diana admits to Charles that he’s been signed up to play and as the call comes in, we cut forward and see flashes of his game, and the very real possibility of him being imprisoned for his part in this scandalous act.
With an inspired Michael Sheen playing Chris Tarrant and the style of the show matching that of its real-life counterpart, Quiz gets off to a flying start, capturing the essence of what made it so special all those years ago. Everyone loves a good pub quiz and Millionaire scratched that itch perfectly before the age of the internet and the world’s knowledge at our fingertips.
Seeing the family gasping and discussing the different questions is a really accurate portrayal and alongside this, seeing the inner-workings of the game and how everything came together is a fascinating way to start this off. Alongside that, Quiz does a great job humanizing Charles Ingram and offering a slightly different side perhaps not shown very often. With the second episode seemingly about to tackle his big game and the beginning parts of the court trial, Quiz still has plenty more bite left in it, but lets hope the rest of the show is as strong as this excellent opening episode.